GENEVA (16 March 2015) -- An interim UN report into the human rights situation in Eritrea has found “very clear patterns” of violations.
The oral report, delivered to the Human Rights Council, follows four months of wide-ranging investigations by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea.
While the Commission has not been granted permission to visit Eritrea, its Chair, Mike Smith, said it had collected testimony from more than 500 members of the Eritrean diaspora. These indicated a variety of abuses.
Smith pointed out that national service was universal and of an indefinite duration. From the age of 17, Eritreans could expect to spend their lives in national service, struggling to live on less than two dollars a day. This was not enough, he suggested, to meet their basic needs, let alone think about raising a family. “Most Eritreans have no hope for their future,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Government had curtailed basic freedoms to the extent that, “individuals feel that they have hardly any choice with regard to the main decisions in their lives: where to live, what career to pursue, when to marry or who to worship.”
For Eritreans, said Smith, “detention is an ordinary fact of life, experienced by an inordinate number of individuals - men and women, old and young, including children.” Detention centres ranged from the official to the unofficial, located above ground or underground. Some were metal containers where prisoners were kept in extreme heat, others were fenced areas, providing no shelter.
“Once in one of them, there is a likelihood that you will be subject to torture to extract a confession or to simply punish behaviours,” he added.
Torture was widespread, both in detention and during national service. Some Eritreans interviewed by the Commission had been beaten or tortured simply for asking for medicine, or for drinking water without permission.
Smith pointed out that these violations were taking place against a backdrop of the so called “no war, no peace” situation related to Eritrea’s unresolved border issues with neighbouring countries.
“This has become the pretext for almost all the State’s actions that generate and perpetuate human rights violations in the country,” he said. “It is an expression abusively used by the Eritrean authorities to disregard international human rights law.”
Under this pretext, the entire society had been militarised, the Constitution had never been implemented and there was no rule of law. No one was being held accountable for human rights violations.
“Is it surprising,” asked Smith, “that faced with such challenges, Eritreans leave their country in their hundreds every day? They brave death to cross borders, deserts and seas.” Some of them never reach their destination.
Eritreans currently make up the second largest group, after Syrians, making the perilous journey in small boats across the Mediterranean to Europe. Tens of thousands more remain in neighbouring countries.
The Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea was established by Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/RES/26/24 . It is examining a broad range of alleged violations since Eritrea gained independence. The Commission will present a written report of its findings to the Human Rights Council in June 2015.
Oral statement to the 28th session of the Human Rights Council
For more information, please consult the Commission’s website http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIEritrea/Pages/commissioninquiryonhrinEritrea.aspx
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